‘Each day and each night that I place myself under his keeping,
I shall not be forgotten.
I shall not be destroyed.
I shall not be imprisoned.
I shall not be harassed by evil powers.’
(Prayer by St Brigit of Kildare, 453-524)
My mind always plays back to that night. The night of the 14th-15th of April. I swear, there is no way I haven’t thought about it. I have thought:
- Maybe I shouldn’t have been thinking about Joseph when mama was praying for me the day I was moving into the hostel. The stupid Joseph boy is not here with me in the forest now.
- Maybe I should have just repeated Jss2 that time when the principal ‘strongly advised’ me to. Shebi I would not be writing WAEC now, and I would not be in this forest.
- Maybe I should have jumped fence with those girls that went partying the night before. Physics was worrying my mind, I couldn’t think about anything else.
- Maybe I should have listened more to my lawyer uncle when I was younger, so maybe I would have wanted to be a lawyer, so maybe I would have been in the Arts class, so maybe I would have gone home instead of staying back to write Physics exam.
- Maybe I should have listened and seriously considered what Santi said about joining the village witches. Then maybe I would have sensed that these men were coming.
- Maybe I should have just been born a boy. Then there would be no hostel facilities for us and I would have been at home snuggled beside mama… well, not really snuggled beside her. More like, squashed beside her.
I have not for once stopped thinking about her. I wonder (though I think it’s highly impossible) if she has lost all that weight from crying and wailing about my kidnap. She was always ever so careful. I would not go to the stream or to the farm alone. We had to go together. And honestly, that spoiled everything I had planned with Joseph. These Boko Haram people have always been, directly or indirectly a menace to my life.
I don’t think much about papa. He is dead. But that night, when loud sounds of gunshot and men shouting in Arabic jolted me from my sleep, he was the first person that came to my mind. Papa was a Muslim. So it adds up that whenever I hear anything said in Arabic, I think about him. But this time, I didn’t think about him in that sense. I thought ‘Oh Mary-ann, this is how you will go and meet papa. Finally. This is how people die.’ Then I waited for the explosion. Because that was my best bet. I would choose the explosion over being slaughtered or being kidnapped.
In Borno (and maybe the whole of Nigeria), we have so lived in constant fear of these men, that the fear has become no longer a state of mind, but a state of living. We have discussed in whispers how it might feel to be bombed and we have prayed to God that if He so wishes that these men come our way, he should let the death be quick and not-so-painful.
But maybe God saw that I was thinking about Joseph when mama was praying for me. He let me be kidnapped instead. This is by far the worst thing that has ever happened to me.
Those men are rough. From the kidnapping night, when I experienced the way they grabbed us and dragged us and flung us on top of ourselves into their truck, I knew that these were not kind men looking for ransom money. They are blood-hungry, love-starved, conscience-dead bastards.
I did not join the other girls to wail. I just simply wept. I couldn’t even see the road mostly because it was night, but also because my eyes had become a river filler. Most of us are Christians. So you can imagine all sorts of psalms recitation and ‘God, why have you forsaken me?’ on our journey to the forest.
Shekau.. We have only seen him three times. The first time was when we got to the forest. After we had settled down (if that can successfully describe over 200 girls wailing and being flogged over and again), he stood up and looked at us and began to laugh. He spoke only Arabic but he knew that most of us understood it. He said ‘This is Sambisa forest. Most of you know it as the boko haram hide-out, but it is a holy ground. The fact that you, as infidels, are on it, already pisses me off. Your only way out is to accept Allah as your true God and to denounce westernization. I hope you’ll be wise enough to accept it.’ None of us did. We were too confused to make any decision.
The second time, he just came into the make-shift room we were kept, scanned us and walked out.
The third time was when he made that video with some of us at the background.
There’s a lot of things that go on here. Terrible things I should not even begin to recount because I’m trying to believe they are not happening. From whispers of the guards, I know that people are fighting for us and are raising awareness. That’s what keeps me going really.
Every day I wake up and I realize that I am still in this forest, waiting for God-knows-what, hearing the guards call me Mariam, eating once a day and wearing an hijab, missing mama like crazy, wondering what Joseph is doing, silently praying that God would send Jesus for His second coming or at least send thunder from above to strike these men dead, I find hope in the whispers of the guards. They say ‘they are telling us to bring back their girls. What girls?’ And then they would laugh.